The strength of the artistic vision and colour of the modernist movement in Malaysian art history draws its influence from the vast experience and exposure that many artists had abroad, and their individual abilities to extrapolate and translate these experiences through their art. Many of these artists had the opportunity to study abroad in Europe, as well as America, and their subsequent artistic production would be characterized by an internationalism that would allow their art to transcend national boundaries, and exist in the democratized sphere of abstraction and modernism. Drawing on universal themes such as the dichotomy between tradition and modernity, the relationship between man and the environment, and the struggle for balance of the inner and external self, the story of modernism in Malaysian art history is one that continues to resonate to today.
The rich, tactile works of Awang Damit Ahmad often reference ideas of architectural ruins, converging landforms and rivers, and abstracted figurative forms. Iraga Perjalanan Utara - Jejak Waktu
Broken Gate II (Lot 609) suggests movement and fluidity in the sweeping strokes of blue and grey paint in the lower left of the painting, while the right half of the composition takes on a more structured form with clear blocks of colour and black outlines. An work that is striking in the application of the complementary blue and orange colours, Awang Damit once again encourages us to appreciate the visceral energy that can emerge through colour, line, and form.
Jolly Koh’s Terang Bulan series of works capture a range of abstracted representations of moonlit landscapes. Here, colours drip and bleed into one another with a deliberate elegance. The lone moon hangs high in the composition, and is connected directly to the level of the ground. The ground itself is referenced here with a smooth horizontal line, curving at each end to suggest a sense of form. With gradations of orange and yellow, and mirrored by the two strips of greyish-blue down each side of the painting, Jolly Koh achieves in creating a notion of depth in an essential flat composition. A master at the manipulation of colour, this is a work that achieves a transcendent atmosphere.
The diffuse, structural abstraction of Malaysia-based Canadian artist Drew Harris are evocative and introspective. Drawing influence from the style of traditional Chinese ink painting as well as an appreciation for the Asian philosophical values of connectedness with the elements, Harris’ compositions like the present Align #2 (Lot 611) achieve in presenting the tenuous balance between fluidity and form.
In contrast to the soft elegance of Harris’ abstraction, the punchy abstract work of Sarawak-born Raphael Scott Ahbeng overwhelms the viewer with its colour and confidence in execution. Presenting an interlocking landscape of upward moving lines and forms, Ahbeng’s work reaches a frenzy of technicolour shape and form at the very top of the composition. The brightly saturated tones peek through at intervals between the overlapping lines are a trademark of the artist, and the overall effect provides a space for escape and imagination for the viewer.
Presented also in this selection are two works from Malaysian modern master Latiff Mohidin. Beginning from the mid-1980s, the Gelombang body of works marked Latiff Mohidin's turn towards a more expressionist and gestural approach to picture-making, after the rational explorations of form and line departing from the earlier Mindscape series. The Mindscape series of works, like the present Mindscape – 27 (Lot 614) presented sparse but wondrous landscapes for introspection, and can be interpreted as an initial internal exploration by the artist before the outward, external expressionism of the Gelombang series.
An elegant example of the distinct geometric stylization of figures by artist Khoo Sui Hoe, One Fine Day (Lot 615), is a characteristic exercise in the visual representation of balance. The two central figures mirror each other’s expressions, just as their expertly rendered reflections in the still water. Depth is achieved by a subtle variation of blues, and sea and sky meld together seamlessly. Affection (Lot 616) presents an earlier, different style of figuration from Khoo, although his central preoccupation with compositional harmony prevails. The abstracted forms of a mother and child are indistinguishable from the form of a blossoming tree, that itself blends into a verdant background, and encompasses an eloquent metaphor for the generational relationship and the fruits of life.